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November 15, 2009

Howdy Doody

Dear Peanut Gallery:

My earliest clear memory, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who has read themail over the past several years, is of the day that my parents had their first television set delivered. I was three years old, and when the set was turned on and tuned in the first picture that I saw was magic and entrancing: Howdy Doody and Mr. Bluster, engaged in one of their many arguments. Since in those long-ago golden days children were not expected to waste their youths going to preschool and kindergarten, for the next three years I was able to spend my afternoons productively, watching Howdy and Kate Smith and half-hour Veg-A-matic commercials. I fell in love with Princess Summerfall Winterspring, cheered on Howdy, and laughed at Clarabell’s pratfalls.

I’ve been watching Howdy Doody DVD’s recently, and seeing things that I missed as a child. Dayton Allen, who provided the voices for several puppets and also played several human characters, had an antic, non sequitur sense of humor, and his ad libs would frequently bring Buffalo Bob Smith to the edge of breaking up during the show. Once, as Flubadub, the indescribable puppet made of mixed animal parts, Allen invited another character to join Howdy and him for a campfire dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, “either rare or without asparagus.” You either find that hilarious or you are baffled by it; there’s no in between. I’ve also come to realize that Howdy Doody shaped not just my sense of humor, but also my understanding of politics. Phineas T. Bluster, the blustering, self-important, scheming, ill-intentioned character who was Howdy’s nemesis, was in fact the mayor of Doodyville; his plans always benefited himself at the expense of the residents of Doodyville, and his intrigues and machinations were always so transparent that even the youngest kids in the front row of the peanut gallery could see through them.

Here’s a joke for you that is worthy of Dayton Allen. As you know, Congress has passed a bill proposed by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton that exempts the government of the District of Columbia from the provisions of the federal Hatch Act as soon as the city passes its own version of a Hatch Act. The “Prohibition on Government Employee Engagement in Political Activity Act of 2009,” Bill 18-460, has ten councilmembers as cosponsors. The act pretty closely follows the federal Hatch Act except for Section 3(b), which says, “This act shall not apply to employees of the District of Columbia Courts, Members of the Council, or the Mayor.” While the wording of this provision may seem ambiguous, it isn’t being interpreted ambiguously; it’s being interpreted as exempting not just councilmembers and the mayor, but also as exempting employees of councilmembers and the mayor, from its provisions. In other words, under the District’s new Hatch Act, councilmembers and the mayor will be able to employ staff members to run their political campaigns and collect campaign funds for them, and they will be able to force their employees to do political work for them as a condition of their jobs. It’s not a Hatch Act at all; it’s a sham that could have been hatched by Mayor Bluster himself.

Gary Imhoff


Consumer Alert
Dorothy Brizill,

Washington is one of the few large municipal jurisdictions in the United States that doesn’t have an office or set of laws to protect and advocate for consumers effectively. The one exception is in the area of utilities. Since 1975, the Office of the People’s Counsel (OPC) and independent agency of the District government, has served as an “advocate for consumers of natural gas, electric, and telephone services in the District” ( Currently serving her sixth three-year term as the People’s Counsel, Elizabeth “Betty” Noel has been a highly regarded civil servant who has worked tirelessly to educate, protect, and represent DC utility ratepayers (  Currently, for example, OPC is opposing Pepco’s $51.7 million rate increase request before the Public Services Commission; OPC is calling, instead, for a decrease in current Pepco rates of $10.4 million. In October, OPC and Washington Gas reached a $2.8 million settlement agreement in which the utility will replace aging sections of its service lines, which have been identified as susceptible to potential leaks.

It is against this backdrop of success that last week Mayor Fenty sent the nomination of Vicky Beasley as People’s Counsel to the council (PR 18-579), to replace Noel. Beasley is currently a corporate attorney with the law firm of Patton Boggs and has no knowledge or expertise in administrative law, utility regulation, or consumer issues. According to her biography (, her area of practice is business (financial services and products, private capital, and investment funds), mergers and acquisitions, and real estate. The law firm’s web site states that Beasley, “advises clients on financial service matters involving corporate acquisitions and divestitures, including mergers, stock and asset transfers, corporate reorganizations, venture capital transactions and joint ventures.”

Footnote: on Saturday, the Office of the People’s Counsel and the DC Department of the Environment held an Energy Expo at the Convention Center. Beasley attended, but would only speak with the exhibiting vendors. She refused Noel’s offer to introduce her to the OPC staff, and she refused to speak with me regarding her nomination. She did indicate that her confirmation hearing has been scheduled by Councilmember Muriel Bowser, a Fenty ally and Chair of the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs, for November 20, although that hearing does not appear on the council calendar and no notice of it has been given to the public.


DC Public Property Reform in the Balance
Dave Mallof,

Public property reform is a litmus test for whether the currently insulated and incorrigible elected leaders in the Wilson Building should continue to govern the District of Columbia. Every year DC “surpluses” hundreds of millions of dollars of precious DC public facilities and land, yet it’s been nearly two years since Councilmember Harry Thomas first introduced his Public Property Reform Bill to provide for real community input, and to require more businesslike and thoughtful analysis by the Executive in a fully transparent manner before surplusing and disposal of DC’s generational assets takes place. Then-Councilmember Carol Schwartz promised reform in 2006 and again when Councilmember Thomas introduced his bill last year, but quite intentionally let it all die along with her elected office in 2008. She certainly lost some pivotal votes from many residents like me specifically because she stalled promised reforms.

This year Mr. Thomas proposed his legislation again as Bill 18-76. Since then, Councilmember Mary Cheh has frequently promised that her Government Operations Committee would bring about true reform in 2009. After a May public hearing on the Thomas bill, in September her committee belatedly gave it a big buzz cut, and weakened it excessively. EmpowerDC, your and my impressive and honorably guileless hometown grassroots advocacy group for the non-elites who call DC home, attempted to revive the bill’s meaningful reforms in October with limited success. EmpowerDC still is requesting added amendments to bring the bill back as true and effective reform. Last week, the Federation of Citizens Associations of DC, of which I am first Vice President, and the respected Committee of 100 for the Federal City sent a joint letter to the council endorsing the current Cheh Bill together with all the proposed EmpowerDC amendments.

The pivotal markup of the bill is now tentatively rumored to occur at 2:00 p.m. this coming Thursday, November 19. It is imperative that citizens turn out in force by phone, E-mail, and in person to demand the reform bill now with no further delays or dilutions. In particular, it is imperative that public notice of the intent to dispose of public facilities and land be adequate and prior, and that the Executive must provide an analysis and the reasons why disposal into private hands is justified rather than continued alternate public use(s). Councilmember Wells is rumored to be against this. I wonder why. The bill must include a private right of action for citizens to seek relief in court if the executive does not hold a required public hearing, or if the executive does not disclose the required analysis. If it’s good enough for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other federal statutes to protect the public and moderate an incorrigible legislature and executive, then this is good enough for DC. (Of course, sunset or repeal is acceptable once Wilson’s ways are mended and the new law’s procedural modus operandi takes hold.)

The role of a Master Facilities Planning Committee, which has long been in the current law but never constituted by the DC government, has been clarified and must be constituted, especially in light of the continuingly flimsy, even laughable, analysis for facilities planning and long-range priorities coming from the Executive. All told, the required fiscal impact of the bill is rumored to have been calculated by the Chief Financial Officer’s staff to be a pittance: an incremental cost of $30,000 per year, in stark contrast to millions in property disposed of without notice, sometimes on an “emergency” basis. When was the last time you saw anything considered by the council that had so few zeros? Yet last week we began are hearing surreal comments emanating from Wilson that that the fiscal impact of the bill somehow must be zero in order to pass it. This is absurd governance logic — or cynically much worse — coming from our repeatedly spendthrift, usually analytically lazy, and frequently opaque elected leadership. The council should be very careful about continuing to such absurd and manipulative rhetoric this week. Reform in the management, use, and disposal of DC’s valuable public assets can wait no longer. I suspect those in Wilson who do not step up substantively by year end face electoral peril in 2010.


General Lack of Interest
Jay E. Vinton,

It seems that few people are choosing to submit any items for themail recently, for whatever reason. Perhaps that could be a topic for discussion. Secondly, it appears that no one gives a c**p about whether DC is providing the basic services needed by those most in need of them.

There have been no responses to either my inquiry about the problems with HIV/AIDS services in DC or my comment about cutbacks in services for the homeless — though I do see that HUD is threatening to withhold its money for HIV/AIDS services in DC due to the problems with the DC programs. Very discouraging.


HIV/AIDS Prevention Education Training Must Become Systematic at HASTA
Samuel Jordan, Health Care Now!,

It’s been three years now since Health Care Now! submitted an unsolicited proposal containing a series of recommendations to what was then the DC Department of Health’s HIV AIDS Administration (DOH HAA), now called HIV/AIDS STD and Tuberculosis Administration (HASTA). The proposal advised the agency to: 1) determine the nature and quality of the HIV/AIDS training received by agency staff and that of the staff of the agency’s partner community based organizations (CBO); 2) require successful completion of standardized, certified basic HIV/AIDS prevention education for all agency staff and the staff of partner CBOs found to lack such training; 3) maintain accurate records of training and professional development of agency staff scheduling periodic refresher programs assuring that staff are current in latest developments in HIV/AIDS prevention methodologies; and 4) grade all partner CBOs on the number/percentage of staff with required training making agency grants and program participation also dependent on their staff training grade.

HAA refused to respond, not once but twice, to the proposal or to adopt and implement the recommendations using in-house staff. Simple in its concept and execution, the proposal may be more critical now than ever. The DC HIV/AIDS epidemic has not abated, although the state of community knowledge on HIV/AIDS prevention has been improved somewhat by the work of numerous CBOs, including those targeting teens and former inmates. However, recent news reports suggest the HIV/AIDS programs in DC public and public charter schools are inconsistent and often of poor quality in their content and effectiveness in translation to the language of young adults. In addition, HASTA can’t yet boast of superior or systematic programs being conducted in or by faith communities, seniors’ programs (seniors represent an explosive demographic infected by HIV), for out of school youth in community settings and young women of childbearing age (African American women, teenaged to late twenties, exhibit the highest rates of new infections.).

While the responsibility for public HIV/AIDS education should be undertaken by all DC agencies having any contact whatever with the general public including DOH, schools, criminal justice for youth and adults, even transportation, DMV and DOES, HASTA is charged most directly and must employ the very best practices. These practices should insure that all HASTA staff and those of its community partners are on the same page and capable of the most accurate and informed communication of the HIV/AIDS prevention message. While comprehensive and insightful, even the recent DC Appleseed Center’s Fifth HIV/AIDS Report Card (August, 2009) did not promote a systematic, same-page HIV/AIDS training program for HASTA, other DC government staff, and community partners. Such training is assumed and therefore easily overlooked.

Two years ago, Health Care Now! developed and conducted a program called PeerSafe in an area high school. The PeerSafe project was founded on the premise that the best mode of communication among youth is by word of mouth — from peers. Every two weeks, the program trained eight to twelve students, lured by pizza and juice, to enter, then rapidly disengage from informal groupings of their peers after expressing three basic principles of HIV/AIDS prevention: what is HIV and how is it transmitted, how HIV infection can be prevented, and where to get tested. A few tried and succeeded. They used the language of their communities and school to enter and exit settings where they were not invited. Such a setting occurred when a PeerSafe student overheard a group of his school mates planning a really stupid party after a coming basketball game. The PeerSafe intervenor left the PeerSafe message with some apprehension but dared to do so anyway. The moment was triumphant.

That HASTA must step up its education efforts beginning with its own staff and that of its community partners was brought home to me with great urgency during the PeerSafe experience. One young man in the program was quite generous in the tips he offered to make our goals easier to accomplish. He insisted with irrepressible, teen-aged self-assurance that, “You can’t catch AIDS if you keep your mouth shut while having sex.” His continued commentary was most chilling: “I’ve tried it and it works.” Profound ignorance is the beating heart of an avoidable epidemic.


Do Red Light Cameras Reduce or Increase Accidents?
Thomas Grahame,

This article, based on research by the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles, looks at the issue in Los Angeles, and finds red light cameras increase accidents, Apparently, any decrease in accidents due to fewer people running lights is countered by a larger increase in accidents when people slam on their brakes when they see the cameras, and then get rear ended.

Keep in mind, this article doesn’t analyze the effects of cameras looking at speeding violations, versus red light cameras.


November InTowner Content Now Available Online
P.L. Wolfe,

This is to advise that the November 2009 on-line edition has been uploaded and may be accessed at Included are the lead stories, community news items, crime reports, editorials (including prior months’ archived), restaurant reviews (prior months’ also archived), and the text from the ever-popular “Scenes from the Past” feature (the accompanying images can be seen in the archived PDF version). Effective with this issue the Selected Street Crimes feature is no longer included in the print edition but instead is available exclusively on our web site by clicking the Street Crimes button directly below that for Community News. A particular advantage for readers is that these reports are being archived in that section back to July 3, 2009. It should be noted, however, that at the time this advisory circulates uploading of the most recent reports may not have been completed, although we expect that it will be within approximately 48 hours.

The complete issue (along with prior issues back to January 2002) also is available in PDF file format directly from our home page at no charge simply by clicking the link in the Current & Back Issues Archive. Here you will be able to view the entire issue as it appears in print, including all photos and advertisements. The next issue will publish on December 11th (the 2nd Friday of the month, as always). The complete PDF version will be posted by the preceding night or early that Friday morning at the latest, following which the text of the lead stories, community news, and selected features will be uploaded shortly thereafter.

To read this month’s lead stories, simply click the link on the home page to the following headlines: 1) “Logan Circle Holiday House Tour to Feature an Eclectic Mix of Homes from Contemporary Condo to Adaptive Re-use to 19th Century”; 2) “Ambitious Proposal for 14th Street Improvements Face DC Development Office Uncertainty.”


An Important Electoral Policy Issue
George Ripley,

In his recent post, “Incrementalism and the Responsibilities and Purview of DC’s Attorney General” [themail, November 11], Richard Layman disagrees with Councilmember Mendelson’s recommendation for the AG position to be elected at the same time as the mayor, saying “I would prefer that the election for this office be held in the off-mayor election year, in order to boost interest in an election cycle that typically sees lower voter participation.”

I totally agree with his position. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, this would make it more difficult to politicize the role of the Attorney General, for instance, by linking it to the election of a powerful mayor and old buddy. Issues like this can matter a great deal. I hope enough citizens, knowledgeable and determined, are beginning to watchdog and act on this sort of thing.



Art Salon: Poetry in Motion, November 18
Lisa Alfred,

Join the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities for Art Salon: Poetry In Motion. This month we explore the worlds of poetry and motion graphics. Poetry — strict or free flowing, breathing words through rhythm and meter — has the power to make us laugh, cry, or start a revolution. On November 18, four talented poets will present their works against a backdrop created through motion graphics. Poetry, one of our most ancient forms of communication, and motion graphics, one of our youngest, join together at our next Art Salon to have a conversation.

Art Salon is modeled after the Paris salons of the late nineteenth century to inspire and provoke the minds of the creative community.

Each month, we gather at a different location. This month, we invite you to converge at Long View Gallery, 1234 9th Street, NW, on Wednesday, November 18, 7:00-9:00 p.m., for an event featuring poets Kyle Dargan, Tala Abu Rahmeh, Abdul Ali, and Sami Miranda and graphic art courtesy of the Motion Graphics Festival ’09. For more information and to RSVP, contact:


Homeschool Day at the National Building Museum, November 18
Sara Kabakoff,

November 18, 10:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Homeschool Day. Join us for the Museum’s first ever Homeschool Day! Individual students are invited to participate in interactive programs like Green by Design that complement curricula in math, science, social studies, language arts, music, and art. Come explore the built environment by becoming city planners, designers, and engineers. $10 per child, per program. Prepaid registration required. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


Department of Parks and Recreation Events, November 17-20
John Stokes,

November 17, 10:00 a.m.-8:30 p.m., Old Post Office Pavilion, 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Feed to Serve Food Drive for ages six and up. Community Unity in partnerships Metropolitan Area “Feed To Serve Annual Food Drive,” sponsored by WHUR-FM. For more information, call Raphael Marshall, Site Manager at 698-3075.

November 17, 6:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m., Sherwood Recreation Center, 640 10th Street, NE. The “56ers” Teen Council — Caring Hearts Harvest Meal for ages thirteen and up. Patrons from local shelters will gather to enjoy a harvest meal with the 56’ers and the Supreme Teen Club. For more information, call 673-3075.

November 19, 12:30 p.m.-2:00 p.m., Chevy Chase Community Center, 5601 Connecticut Avenue, NW. Ward 3 Holiday Potluck. Staff will bring a variety of delicious dishes. For more information, call Ralph Wright at 282-2204.

November 19, 5:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m., Lamond Recreation Center, 20 Tuckerman Street, NE. Thanksgiving Feast for ages six and up. The community will come together for the Thanksgiving season to enjoy food and music. For more information, call Kim Campbell at 576-9541.

November 20, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m., Takoma Community Center, 300 Van Buren Street, NW. Senior Luncheon for ages and up. Seniors will enjoy lunch and fellowship for the Thanksgiving season. For registered participants only. For more information, call 576-7068.

November 20, 5:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m., Volta Park Recreation Center, 1555 34th Street, NW. Thanksgiving Basket Food Drive for all ages. The Supreme Teen Club, along with the community, will drop off nonperishable food to needy families. For more information, call Shirley Debrow or CM Anderson at 282-0380.

November 20, 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m., Bald Eagle Recreation Center, 100 Joliet Street, SW. Lights Fashion Action Show for all ages. Bald Eagle will host the first ever adult fashion show. Light refreshments will be served. For more information, call Margie Robinson, Site Manager, at 645-3960.

November 20, 2009, 6:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m., Langdon Park Recreation Center, 2901 20th Street, NE. Skate Party for all ages. Kids will enjoy a skate party with friends. For more information, call T-Jai Farmer, Site Manager, at 576-6595.

November 20, 5:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m., Lafayette Recreation Center, 5900 33rd Street, NW. After School Recreation Access Pot Luck for ages five through thirteen. Youth enrolled in the After School Recreation Access program will participate in a potluck to celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday. For more information, call Mike Thompkins at 282-2206.

November 20, 6:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m., Douglass Community Center, Frederick Douglass Court and Stanton Terrace, SE. Lets Give Thanks for ages twelve and under. Youth will share food and give thanks. For more information, call Barbara Jones, Site Manager, at 645-3980.

November 20, 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m., Benning Stoddert Recreation Center, 100 Stoddert Place, SE. Thanksgiving Banquet Dinner Celebration for all ages. Benning Stoddert Staff will host an Annual Thanksgiving and Sports Banquet dinner, to honor youth and adult sports participants, dancers, and volunteers. For more information, contact Richard Evans at 698-1873.


DC State Board of Education Meeting, November 18
Beverley Wheeler,

The DC State Board of Education (DCSBOE) will hold a public meeting on Wednesday, November 18, at 5:30 p.m., at 441 4th Street, NW, in the District of Columbia State Board of Education Chambers, located on the lobby level of the building. It will receive two presentations from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). OSSE will provide a briefing on the District of Columbia’s “High Risk” Corrective Action Plan (CAP) and the Common Core College and Career Readiness Standards. The State Board will also vote on a resolution designating December as AIDS Awareness Month in the District.

Constituents who wish to comment at the meeting are required to notify the State Board of Education in advance by contacting the Executive Director, Beverley Wheeler, by phone at 741-0884 or by E-mail at before the close of business Monday, November 16. Please provide one electronic copy and bring fifteen copies to the hearing for the State Board members to view. The meeting will air live on District Knowledge Network (DKN) Comcast Channel 99 and RCN Channel 18.


An Overview of Free Open Source Software, November 21
Barbara Conn,

As personal computer hardware gets cheaper and cheaper, the cost of the software to get our work done becomes disproportionately high. But if you’re suffering those expensive-software blues, you can find relief! Free open source software (FOSS) can be a viable alternative to commercial products. Information Technology Consultant Tom Gutnick will lead a discussion of the pros and cons of using FOSS, and will spotlight some useful FOSS packages. No technical expertise is needed — just bring your good business savvy.

Gather your colleagues, friends, and neighbors, and your questions, and bring them to this Saturday, November 21, 2:30 p.m., gathering of the Capital PC User Group (CPCUG) Entrepreneurs and Consultants Special Interest Group (E&C SIG). These monthly events are free and open to all. This month’s event is at the Cleveland Park Branch Library (first floor large meeting room) at 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW (between Macomb and Newark Streets), just over a block south of the Cleveland Park Metrorail Station on the Red Line. For more information about the seminar, the speaker, and CPCUG (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization), visit To RSVP, send an E-mail to


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